Harare assumed a refreshing new look yesterday after police descended on illegal vendors in the central business district (CBD) where they had become an eyesore after taking over virtually every available space on roads and pavements.
The law enforcement agents managed to clear the streets during the day, although defiant vendors resurfaced after 6:30pm along Robert Mugabe Road, Jason Moyo Avenue, Chinhoyi Street and Simon Muzenda (formerly Fourth) Street. Some of the vendors could be seen in the evening pushing carts loaded with fruits and vegetables.
The few vendors were playing a cat-and-mouse game with anti-riot police in the evening. They would run away with their wares on seeing the police and return to their illegal sites when law enforcements agents would have moved to other streets. The crackdown by the police follows a Government directive on Wednesday for illegal vendors and pirate taxis operating in the CBD to be moved to designated sites.
A survey conducted by The Herald yesterday showed that police were heavily deployed in and around the city to ensure peace prevailed during the crackdown, which also targeted pirate taxis. But some vendors would hide their wares from the officers and resume trading once they were out of sight. Pirate taxis continued operating in spite of the heavy police presence. There were no incidences of violence recorded during the operation yesterday. Harare City Council spokesperson Mr Michael Chideme said the operation was going on well.
"We are progressing very well and there is peace and tranquillity," he said. "There is order and no resistance at all." Harare provincial police spokesperson Assistant Inspector Simon Chazovachii said police would remain on the ground to ensure that peace and tranquillity prevailed.
"Police are out in full force and they will remain on high alert on the ground," he said. "They are there to maintain peace and of which today (yesterday) it was peaceful.
"We would like to urge vendors to comply with the orders and they should move to designated vending sites." Asst Insp Chazovachii said they will continue monitoring some of the vendors who were playing cat and mouse games with the police. Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu applauded President Mugabe for stamping authority on the clampdown on vendors.
"We would want to applaud His Excellency, President Mugabe for stamping authority to clampdown on vendors after council had come out in the open that they had failed to deal with the matter," he said. Mr Mutashu said between 2015 and last year, they had been lobbying for the vendors to be removed from the streets. He said some of the vendors had been stealing goods from shops, which they would then sell in front of the same shops at cheaper prices. Some of the vendors, he said, were in the habit of defecating, urinating and harassing pedestrians on the streets.
"I don't know why Harare City Council had been waiting for the President's directive, yet they are the ones who are in charge of the city," said Mr Mutashu. "We would like to call upon for the sustainability of this operation and it should not be a short term one."
Mr Mutashu said with the operation, Government had created an environment where people would operate their businesses in a conducive environment. He said those operating pirate taxis should be removed from the streets and that Government should come up with an efficient transport system. Shop owners across the capital welcomed the Government-inspired campaign against street vendors. A businessman running a footwear shop, Yerman Superior Shoes, at the corner of Robert Mugabe and Julius Nyerere, who preferred to be identify by his last name Patel, welcomed the Government decision to rid the city of vending.
"How filthy is the city?" he said. "Where do these vendors go to relieve themselves when they are hard-pressed? These questions alone provide you with answers." Mr Patel said on the other hand he sympathised with the vendors who were trying to eke-out a living through honesty means, but the city needed to be clean.
"I think you need to walk in the streets and smell the stench," he said. "It is not nice at all. It is no longer the sunshine city. It is now a dump site city." A manager at a plastic ware shop along the same street, Mr John Magiya said: "The vendors are selling their wares in front of our shops, blocking our customers' way into the shops. They are killing our business. They should go away." But some vendors described the campaign against vending as a devastating blow for their suistainence. Mbuya Rutendo, a seasoned vendor from Epworth, said she had been in the vending business throughout her life.
"It is survival of the fittest," she said. "We will continue playing cat and mouse game with the law." A pirate taxi driver Thomson Chigora said he needed to fend for his family, hence he would not be deterred with the latest development. My brother, it is sad that we are striving to do the wisest and normal thing and we are now being arrested," he said. Most motorists who spoke to The Herald welcomed the decision to push kombi and mushika-shika operators to designated sites, saying this will enable a free flow of traffic.
Addressing journalists on Wednesday during a Joint Operations Command (JOC), Harare Metropolitan Provincial Affairs Minister Miriam Chikukwa bemoaned the deplorable state of the capital and directed that all illegal vendors and pirate taxis be moved to designated sites with immediate effect.
The briefing was attended by representatives of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), and officials from the Harare City Council (HCC) and the Environment Management Agency (EMA).